Summer Internship Stories: Non-Profit Incubator, Shanghai

Summer Internship Stories: Exploring Social Enterprise in China
Sep 5 2018

Above: Liyuan Zhang (third from right) and her colleagues from NPI pose at the 724 Cheers Hub, a co-working space for social enterprise in Lujiazui 

"My internship gave me the confidence and courage to explore careers in the non-profit sector," says Liyuan Zhang ‘21.  The social science major spent the summer working for a Shanghai NGO, and explains how it got her thinking about the future of non-profit organizations in China and how she could contribute to this developing field:


This summer, I did an internship at Non-Profit Incubator (NPI), a local NGO in Shanghai that is currently China’s largest non-profit incubator, nurturing more than 600 local NGOs and social enterprises.

As an incubator, NPI provides selected non-profit organizations with free or subsidized office space, IT support, training, and, perhaps most importantly, a well-established network of government officials, business and individual donors, and NGOs.

Asking questions

I assisted NPI with research for the HSBC Social Enterprise Facilitation Program and was responsible for collecting data on organizations in China that support social enterprises.

A week into my internship, I started interviewing the founders and leaders of these supporting organizations. Based on these interviews, my colleagues and I designed a final questionnaire to find out how these supporting organizations assist social enterprises and what kind of difficulties and challenges they face. I was unprepared at first for all the questions I received from interviewees about the project. To better respond to them, I spent a long time doing research online and asking my colleagues’ advice. In the process, I learned that conducting a good interview is not just about asking questions, but knowing enough to ask the right questions.

New perspectives on NGOs

Some of the interviewees were willing to talk about the challenges they faced, what the government should do, why investors hesitated to put money into their programs, and most of all, what NGOs could do to help the public recognize and value social entrepreneurship.

Through these conversations, I was able to learn a lot about NGOs and social enterprises in China. It was interesting to me that many NGOs in China want to become social enterprises in the future. After decades of development of the non-profit sector, many NGOs in China are mature enough to try something different. Meanwhile, social funding has become more competitive, and it no longer meets the needs of some NGOs. It made me start to reconsider the relationship between business and philanthropy. If we apply business strategies to solve social issues—rather than be limited by the funding model of an NGO—is this a more effective way to achieve a fairer society? Which model is more sustainable?

My biggest takeaway

Because NPI supports initiatives in almost all fields in China’s philanthropy sector, I was able to spend the summer really getting to know the field of social entrepreneurship. But over the course of my nine-week internship, my colleagues at NPI gave me more than I could ever give them. As well as helping me learn new skills and knowledge, they also set an example for me to follow. They all came from different backgrounds, some had even given up high-paid jobs to be there. Through their personal stories and advice, they gave me the confidence and courage to follow my interests.

My experience this summer has made me more determined to explore careers in the non-profit sector, as I now see more opportunities in this field. There is definitely much more space for China to develop in social enterprise, social innovation and impact investment.

Liyuan was a recipient of the NYU Shanghai Summer Service Grant. To learn more about applying for internships with NGOs, contact the Career Development Center at You can also log into NYU Shanghai CareerNet to explore job and internship postings and schedule career coaching appointments.

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